How Long? Park, Umlazi - eThekwini

Back to the Creative Cities are Safer Cities Initiative 


Creative Cities are Safer Cities initaitive
The Dandora Transformation League (DTL) has been selected as one of the Action Learning Cases in the Creative Cities are Safer Cities initiative. By studying a number of concrete cases, the research team in this initiative - which includes specialists on urban safety, living labs, creativity and frugal innovation - promotes the research that investigates how creative cities can contribute to safer cities and aims to set up a Living Lab in collaboration with urban authorities and (impact) investors that enable local creative (designers, innovators, entrepreneurs) to create and develop (frugal) solutions that will enhance safety and security in Durban and Nairobi, South Africa.  

Urban context
Geographically, eThekwini Municipality consists of a number of towns including Durban, where the municipal government sits as well as KwaMashu and Umlazi, both of which are historically black townships. The laws and planning regulations of the Apartheid era have had an enduring impact on urbanisation in South Africa. Policies such as Influx Control and Forced Removals as well as discriminatory government controls on land ownership and settlement kept Black people from living in the main cities (South African Cities Network, 2016; Turok 2012). Dr Jennifer Houghton, of the Urban Futures Centre, points out that the result of this legacy can still be seen in the racial distribution within the various settlements.

According to the 2019 edition of the report on The State of Urban Safety in South Africa about 6% of eThekwini’s population experienced crime or violence in the preceding year, which is a good score when compared to other South African cities. Despite this,  residents reported moderately high levels of fear of crime and fairly low levels of satisfaction with the performance of law enforcement. EThekwini has relatively low levels of reported violent crime when compared to other South African cities. However, the murder rate is quite high. The main threats to urban safety in the area are high levels of poverty and youth unemployment combined with relative ease in accessing alcohol, drugs and firearms (Urban Safety Reference Group, 2019).


How Long? Park, Umlazi
Umlazi is the fourth largest township in South Africa. Like other townships it has been historically underserved and disconnected from economic opportunities. The community in this settlement is still predominantly black and plagued with poverty, unemployment and violent crime. The legacy of segregation and spatial injustice still endures. In spite of this, the spirit of community is still vibrant. Recently there have been steps to remedy this by establishing tertiary education institutions, malls and providing residents with infrastructure and services but it still lags behind in the provision of amenities, particularly safe urban space. 

In 1976, Michael Fana Mlangeni saw the need for safe urban space for the people of Umlazi to connect with nature. At the time he was working in Durban and commuting to and from Umlazi, where he lived and would see the beautiful parks that the residents of Durban had access and the people of Umlazi would never have a chance to enjoy. In his words, he felt compelled to create a place where the people of Umlazi would have access to the quality of public space that he saw in Durban. He found a suitable spot along the banks of the Isipingo River and began to rehabilitate it by  planting flowers and landscaping using river rock. He did not have any money so he provided most of the labour for the project and mainly used the materials that were in situ. Members of the community contributed wherever they could, occasionally providing labour, gravel and tools.

Michael named the park How Long? as an act of political protest, questioning the conditions in which Black people in South Africa were living in at the time. Predictably, this drew the ire of the Apartheid government and Michael was repeatedly harrassed and imprisoned. The Apartheid regime officially came to an end in 1994 with the introduction of a democratic government. Still, Michael feels that due to the rampant socio-economic inequality in the country, the name of the park remains relevant to this day.


Safety Impact of the Project
Visitors to the park appreciate that it reinforces the spirit of community by providing a venue for social events. The park hosts weddings, baby showers, picnics and all kinds of events at no cost.  It ensures that the immediate neighbourhood by putting eyes on the street. By creating vibrance and activity, an atmosphere of safety is generated which acts as a deterrent to crime. It also enhances safety by employing guards who patrol the immediate vicinity.


Interested in our action learning cases & research?
Subscribe to receive research update notifications.

Back to the Creative Cities are Safer Cities Initiative 


Source: Dianne Wakonyo, CFIA Working Paper 7 2020